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“Perpetrating” the Lyrics: A Critical Exegesis of the 1989 Young MC Hit “Bust a Move”

July 23, 2008

images-1.jpegEvery time I have ever done karaoke — and it is only a brief handful of times, some of which I feel were imbued with greater authenticity and less lameness due to the presence of many earnest and inebriated Japanese people — I pretty much do the same song.

Sure, if I’m there long enough and it seems fitting that I go up again, I might belt out Cher’s “If I Could Turn Back Time.” But you don’t want to be around for that. My song, one which takes advantage of the fact that I cannot sing but can certainly talk very fast, is Young MC’s 1989 hit “Bust a Move.”

I was practicing this song in my head in the shower when I started thinking too hard about it. There are many things I like about it, including the Revenge of the Nerds reference in the line:

A chick walks by you wish you could sex her
but you standin’ on the wall like you was Poindexter


Wikipedia informed me that Revenge came out in 1984 and this song in 1989; sequels to the film were still being produced, and this reference to the character Poindexter was fresh and descriptive, creating in the listener a sense of sympathy for the hapless sex-pursuer.*

You might think I would have a problem with this lament about materialistic women:

They’re lyin’ on the beach perpetrating a tan
so a brother with the money can be their man

One cannot “perpetrate” a tan; one can only “perpetrate” a crime. However, in this case, the tan is a mechanism for rejecting a potential sex partner of modest means, which, to the speaker, is to be decried. Thus, the novel use of the word “perpetrate” creates an association for the reader of a woman actually committing a crime by lying passively on the beach, her unavailability emanating from her, and her rejection of the speaker — and of you — unspoken but obvious. A crime! And an evocative turn of phrase.

I do, however, have concerns about this line:

But every dark tunnel has a lighter hope
So don’t hang yourself with a celibate rope

Celibacy as a “rope” is a counterintuitive metaphor; the portrayal of celibacy as, for instance, a desert in which one might die of thirst, would be uncontroversial, but a rope? With with one might hang oneself, dying suddenly and deliberately, rather than slowly wasting away from prolonged neglect? This idea merits further development.**

But the real impetus for this post was this entire stanza:

Your best friend Harry has a brother Larry
In five days from now he’s gonna marry
He’s hopin you can make it there if you can
‘Cause in the ceremony you’ll be the best man
You say “neato”… check your libido
And roll to the church in your new tuxedo
The bride walks down just to start the wedding
And there’s one more girl you won’t be getting.

As you may have guessed, you are about to sex a bridesmaid. This is unproblematic and represents a victory in the hero’s journey of this tale. However, other problems abound:

  • The first great many times I heard this song, I simply accepted that two men might be named Harry and Larry. Until I finally clued in that they are brothers, and that their mom was being kind of a douche when she named them that. Seriously? Harry and Larry?
  • Why didn’t Larry ask Harry to be his best man? Why? Why ask your brother’s best friend to be your best man?
  • Perhaps the answer is that Harry has a problem with responsibility, and you might do a better job. Except that Larry is not even sure that you’ll be able to make it! YOU ARE THE WORST “BEST” MAN, EVER. Did you even throw Larry a bachelor party? Or did Larry just have to “hope”?
  • Finally: why even mention the “five days” between now and the wedding, when apparently the five days elapse without consequence in between the first and second quatrains of this stanza? Do you ever tell a story in this way? “In five days, we are going out to lunch! You agree to make a reservation. The food arrived, and it was not as we had hoped, but we will console ourselves by sexing the waitress.”

* Even though this song makes inventive use of the second person and that hapless sex-pursuer is, in fact, “you.”

** And also reminds me of ’80s fad “soap on a rope.”

This might lead to celibacy.


9 Responses to ““Perpetrating” the Lyrics: A Critical Exegesis of the 1989 Young MC Hit “Bust a Move””

  1. Ryan on July 23rd, 2008 5:09 pm

    For the longest time, I thought the line was actually “Don’t hang yourself with a soap-on-a-rope,” which made absolutely no sense to my 12-year-old mind.

  2. Vicki (Jen's Mom) on July 24th, 2008 7:05 pm

    What is wrong with two brothers being named Harry and Larry?
    You have a brother/sister named Benifer…….. Cringing yet?

  3. Kenny on July 25th, 2008 5:33 am

    I…uuuummm…*cough* kinda go a little overboard with the karaoke business. I’ve stood on pool tables, gotten kicked offstage for twirling the microphone, sang/screamed “too loud”, danced with strange women, and more often than not, stuck the mic in the faces of a confused crowd(or lack thereof) for backups or a glorious “sing-along” chorus. The latter has rarely yielded any participants, except in the case of my comic friends. Go figure. I also once dated a woman who swore she’d only do karaoke in Mexico. I still don’t get it.

  4. Matt Penn on July 25th, 2008 5:21 pm

    Once again, my friend, you’ve hit the nail on the head!

    While it may be theoretically possible to use that spray-on shit for nefarious purposes, for the most part anyone going the Lee-Press-On-Tan route just sticks with that plot even after nudity ensues. The tan may be an ersatz* glow, then, but no different in that respect than dyed tresses or tinted contact lenses.

    No, I feel compelled to come out of retirement to point out that, of course, you’re right. A tan cannot really be “perpetrated”.

    Cleavage, on the other hand. . .

    * Fans of erudite merriment may be interested to know that ersatz is to Chelsea Mind Games what limn is to a Michiko Kakutani book review. That is, ersatz will find its way into the proceedings some how; some way. Bet on it!

    That’s because, while ersatz is obviously a good vocab word few can use correctly in a sentence, it also happens to be the capital of Poland.

    Now you know.

  5. Matt Penn on July 25th, 2008 6:44 pm

    Soap on a Rope is for felons. So, apparently, is the priesthood. No, when I need me some celibacy, I just rely on my personality. . .

  6. Tom on August 2nd, 2008 8:35 pm

    I had two great uncles named Boyd and Floyd, so people DO actually do that.

  7. Tom on August 2nd, 2008 8:41 pm

    Now if they were named Will and Bill, ok, I could see that as being a bit off, but Harry and Larry (and those sadly inevitable sisters of theirs, Mary and Carrie) seem fine. Plus, you could hook up with Carrie, as I hear she’s easy.

  8. Matt Penn on August 4th, 2008 6:04 pm

    FUN FACT: Following the admission by Antonio Pettigrew that he took banned substances before and during the 2000 Summer Olympic games in Sydney, Australia, the United States Men’s 4×400 relay team had to surrender their gold medals recently. The team was: Pettigrew, Men’s 400m world record holder Michael Johnson, and the identical twins ALVIN & CALVIN Harrison!

  9. Anonymous on May 25th, 2010 6:05 pm

    “perpetrate” is hip hop slang for faking something. MC Young is saying that Black women lay on the beach to meet men not get darker.

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